Feature

Woah There: Embracing Slow Travel In Red Dead Redemption II

by Jeff Cork on Jan 01, 2019 at 02:00 PM

If I had access to a teleporter, I’d abuse the hell out of it. I don’t like driving to work all that much, even though the commute does allow me to keep up-to-date on most of my favorite podcasts. Imagine all the time I’d save on snow days, where everyone suddenly forgets how to drive completely and traffic freezes to a standstill. Heading to Target to pick up a single item wouldn’t seem like such a hassle, either. I’m probably not going to get that kind of magical device anytime soon, but I do get to indulge in that kind of fantasy in open-world games. Whenever fast travel is available, it almost always becomes my preferred way of getting around. At least it was until I played Red Dead Redemption II.

By now, people have written tomes around Red Dead II’s overall pace. Depending on where you stand, you might consider it comfortably slow or downright glacial. I’d have to say it’s just about perfect for me and the way I play games, but I’m also a weirdo who thinks Unbreakable is one of the best superhero movies around. It seems when people aren’t griping about the speed of the animations (with looting and skinning being the biggest offenders), they’re complaining about how clunky fast travel is. I can’t really speak to that, because, aside from one stagecoach trip, I never used any kind of fast travel throughout my playthrough of Red Dead II. That’s because Rockstar did a lot of smart things with its open-world design.

One of the reasons I rely on fast travel in most games is because traveling around in most games gets boring. I’ve been having a great time with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but I’ve also taken full advantage of fast travel. Kassandra’s horse is quick enough, but after I’ve seen the same sights on a route a few times, I’m ready to skip ahead to where my next mission is and get to the action. Red Dead II, on the other hand, has enough diversions between locations to incentivize taking the long way. Rockstar doubled down on stranger missions and smaller encounters, doling out diversions at a reliable clip. 

Whether I was galloping across the map or simply riding from my gang’s camp to a nearby town, there was always a chance that something interesting might happen – something more interesting than simply watching yet another NPC get attacked by an animal. Sure, Red Dead’s population seems to be awfully unlucky when it comes to snake bites and bear traps, but once I got tired of seeing a few repeated scenarios I’d just keep riding when I heard someone moaning under a tree.

Those moments reminded me a lot of the Elder Scrolls games. Those games might not offer the most stable experiences around, but they excel at tossing out interesting scripted encounters when you’re traveling from place to place, not just rewards for reaching your destination.

Like Odyssey, Red Dead II has some form of equine cruise control, where you can set a waypoint on your map and let your horse handle the rest. Rockstar incorporated its cinematic-camera mode into it, too, so you aren’t just looking at your horse’s ass on your journey. I don’t recommend using this in towns or other populated areas, since people have a nasty habit of not getting out of the way; in this regard, I’d rather have Odyssey’s NPCs, who comically throw themselves tens of feet to avoid getting trampled, instead of Red Dead’s bounty bait. During my Red Dead II playthrough, I used this not-quite-fast-travel all the time. Whenever someone needed help – or started firing on me for no reason – I’d quickly regain control and take care of the situation.

My slow method of getting around has been a great fit with the game’s hunting, too. I’ve taken a lot of detours after catching sight of a prized animals, which I wouldn’t have seen if I were fast traveling. That’s how it used to be in the Far Cry games, too. Far Cry 5 reduced the importance of hunting and crafting, and along with that went much of my enthusiasm for getting off the beaten path. 

Finally, one of the reasons I was never tempted to fast travel my brains out in Red Dead II was that the world was manageably large. The trip from one edge of the map to another would take a long time, sure, but that wasn’t a journey I was likely to take. The story missions take you all over the game’s world, but through trips that are mostly bite-sized – unlike many of Odyssey’s globe-spanning quests, which have no problem sending players across the sea in agonizingly slow naval sections.

Some of my best gaming moments from the past year have been in Red Dead Redemption II, and that’s largely because I felt like I was a part of its world. I suppose I could have saved myself a few hours by fast-traveling around (once I figured out how to do it), but I enjoyed the quiet contemplation that all those lonely journeys provided. I feel like I would have cheated myself out of those by teleporting around from saloon to stable to camp.